Relations between Spain and Morocco from a commercial and economic point of view. In such a way that it has often been the “primus inter pares” when it comes to analysing the path shared by the two countries. The current state and future of this paradigm, with the role played by the autonomous community of Andalusia in the equation, was debated by two panels of experts during the conference “Andalusia, Euro-Mediterranean Spain-Morocco nexus”, held today at the Three Cultures Foundation of the Mediterranean by the magazine Atalayar.
In collaboration with the Andalusian Regional Government, the General Secretariat for External Action, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the International Press Club, the conference brought the debate to the table through Mohamed Benchaib, CEO of Bank of Africa Europe; Miguel Guardiola Villamarín, Director of International Relations at the Confederation of Andalusian Businessmen; Aziz El Hammouti, Corporate Director of Robles Sphère and Jerónimo Páez, lawyer and expert in international relations.
As Benchaib recalled, Morocco is Spain’s gateway to the African market. The kingdom alone accounts for 50% of Spanish exports to the African continent, according to ICEX data. Andalusia plays an important role in this trade balance, accounting for 17% of these exports.
Benchaib praised this level of trade, but regretted that Spanish investments do not keep pace with commercial traffic. Spanish investments in the neighbouring country rank fifth in the ranking, well behind the United States, France, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Benchaib said that the new law on private investment should be an incentive for Spanish investment in Morocco to take off at once. “We want companies to open in Morocco, but not to close in Spain. We want to colocalise, not relocate”, said the senior official of the Moroccan banking institution with a presence throughout the African continent.
Benchaib highlighted the role played by his bank in accompanying Spanish companies on their path towards investment and establishment in Morocco. The European subsidiary of Bank of Africa is a 100% Spanish entity that motivates and encourages foreign trade. “Before 1994, when we arrived in Spain, there was no entity to accompany them and confirm their operations, to give them added value and professionalism. …. When you make this type of investment, you need to have security,” said Benchaib. “The first thing we want when we accompany a company in its Moroccan investment is for it to succeed”.
Benchaib’s speech was followed by that of Miguel Guardiola Villamarín, Director of Relations of the largest federation of Andalusian, Ceuta and Melilla businessmen. The organisation, which brings together the business representatives of the eight Andalusian provinces, has its eyes on its southern neighbour. “In terms of attracting foreign business, Morocco has a long-term policy, and that always has good results,” Guardiola said. “And that has led them to move from 130th place in the Doing Business magazine to 50th place”.
The representative of the Andalusian business community valued very positively the current business climate in Morocco and especially the giant steps that the country has taken in recent decades to adapt to foreign entrepreneurs. Andalusia is also putting its best foot forward. Guardiola recalled that the first institutional trip abroad that the Andalusian president Moreno Bonilla has made is to Morocco, with the subsequent result of a business forum.
For Aziz El Mammouchi, corporate director at Robles Sphère, the best thing that can happen between Spain, Andalusia and Morocco is the creation of a regional value chain. “The sudden cut in supply from Asia is an eye-opener, making us rethink how we do things. That is why we are moving away from the global value chain, towards the regional one”. For this vision, El Hammouchi gives special importance to SMEs, the small and medium-sized enterprises, which he encourages to embark on internationalisation.
The round table was closed by the international relations expert Jerónimo Páez, who, with his great knowledge of the shared history of Andalusia and Morocco, was able to give some great advice for the future. “Andalusia needs an association agreement with northern Morocco, just as Galicia has an agreement with Porto,” Páez insisted. “We have to take it forward, without counting on Madrid”.
In the second part of the round table, which focused more on business opportunities and the establishment of companies, Pablo Lería Couderc, head of the Africa and Middle East Market Development Department of the Andalusian Agency for Foreign Promotion (Extenda), one of the main players in trade with Morocco, took the floor. Lería reviewed the main sectors of interest in which Andalusia is prioritising in Morocco: agriculture, construction, renewable energies, water treatment and products linked to the automotive industry.
José Ignacio García Muniozguren, managing partner of the Garrigues office in Casablanca, also took the floor during the conference, to share his experienced vision on the Moroccan legal framework in relation to companies that want to reach Morocco. García Muniozguren assured that, although the Moroccan tax system is very similar to the Spanish one, “the devil is in the details”, so a correct knowledge of Moroccan laws is imperative for the Spanish investor.
His intervention was followed by that of Nourdine Mouati, a consultant specialising in cooperation between Spain and Morocco, who recalled that if trade exchanges between the two countries have surpassed those between Morocco and France, it has been due to political will. “Companies are often afraid to invest in Morocco from a reputational point of view, which is why we must make it known that there is already a value chain between the two countries that is very beneficial to society”.
The round table concluded with some of the speakers’ assessments of the latest major engineering project that aims to connect Andalusia with northern Morocco by means of a tunnel similar to the English Channel. The speakers agreed that today the engineering allows the macro-project to be carried out and that all that is lacking is the political will and funding for the work and plans to begin.